Can You Solve These Common Problems?


By: Elisabeth Henderson

7 Min Quiz

Image: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / DigitalVision / Getty Images

About This Quiz

When something goes awry in your home, what is your first instinct? Do you make a call and pay an expert to come fix it? Or do you move to the self-sufficient response — asking what it would take to do it yourself? If you have a self-sufficient mindset, it doesn’t matter whether you already know how to fix something. You just know that you have the capacity to figure it out, and you break the task down into manageable steps and take them in stride. 

When you get a sky-high water bill, for instance, how do you react? You might first call the water company for advice. When they tell you that the problem is definitely on your end and not a leak on the street side, you’ll need to figure out how to find the leak. Start by checking any appliances for leaking. Eventually, you look up the blueprint for your water pipes outside the house and dig until you uncover the culprit soaking in a pool underground. 

The DIY mindset means that, over time, you’ll acquire a wide range of skills and the ability to take on any challenge that comes your way. How far along are you in that process? Tackle these problems and find out how self-sufficient you really are! 

What is the first action to take if your gutters leak after a rainstorm?

Gutters, which carry rainwater from the roof to the ground so that it doesn’t pool up and cause damage, can often leak when they are clogged with leaves and other debris. An easy fix is to use a ladder to check for debris and remove it.


If you struggle to keep your vegetable garden adequately watered, what remedy might you apply?

If you have trouble keeping up with watering your vegetable garden, you could try installing a drip irrigation system. Such a system can be rather complicated, but it can also be as simple as a set of hoses that attach to your water spigot. The system can be programmed to water at a specific time.


You open your dishwasher to discover that pieces of food are lingering on the plates. What first step might you take to fix it?

When a dishwasher no longer properly washes the food off dishes, it may be a problem with a clogged spray arm, filter or float. To clean the spray arm, you’ll need to first remove it, then soak it in a solution of hot water and vinegar. If needed, use a toothbrush and/or tweezers to remove any debris that doesn’t loosen.


What do you do when your smoke detector alarm goes off while you're baking lasagna in the oven?

When a smoke detector alarm is going off, you can usually stop the loud alert by simply pushing the button facing downward on the device. While it may sound again, especially if there’s still smoke, this is easier than dismantling the device. Of course, if there's an actual fire, put it out or call 911.


Your mother-in-law is coming in town, and you start noticing all the dark scuff marks on your walls. How can you clean them off before she gets here?

If the anticipation of tidy company makes you notice the flaws on your walls, you can fairly easily clean marks off. Mix a solution of 50/50 vinegar and water, and apply it to the walls with a sponge. Scrub lightly and rinse with water. Test this method on a small, out-of-the-way spot first!


Your dogs continually chew on your furniture and are progressively ruining all of it. What can you do to put a stop to this?

While telling some well-behaved dogs “No!” may solve the problem, most dogs with this habit will need more of a deterrent. Applying something that will taste bad and won’t harm animals or furniture, like a mix of white vinegar and apple cider vinegar, works well to stop the chewing.


When a hinge squeaks each time a door opens and closes, what can you do to address it?

To silence a squeaky hinge, you can also use any number of lubricants that you might have on hand. Olive oil is one option — apply a small amount at the top of the hinge, let gravity do its work, then wipe away the excess. Bar soap or petroleum jelly can also be used as lubricants.


How can you fix your shower when the water flow has become a trickle?

Low pressure in a shower head may be caused by mineral deposits in the holes of the shower head. To clean it, remove the shower head and soak it in vinegar for at least eight hours. Scrub off any debris, then try to remove stuck debris with tweezers or a toothpick.


You are trying to cultivate a vegetable garden, but your plants are surrounded by weeds. How can you get rid of them?

When weeds continually rise up in the garden, you’ll initially need to pull them out by the roots to get them under control. After that, you can control the emergence of more weeds by applying a layer of mulch over the surface.


When it's time to change the oil in your car, how do you go about it?

While most people these days take their car to a professional for an oil change, it’s a relatively easy project to do yourself, if you're handy. The job requires you to find the oil pan and drain plug, drain the old oil from the pan and the filter into a container, install a new filter, and add clean oil.


If the light illuminating your license plate goes out, what should you do?

Not having your license plate illuminated can sometimes earn you a ticket, so it’s important to replace a bulb that goes out. To do so, simply remove the locking cap by unscrewing it, then unscrew the bulb a quarter turn and replace it with a new bulb.


If you live in a hot climate and your bottled water gets hot too quickly, how can you keep it cool longer?

In very warm climates, your bottled water won't stay cold for long. For an easy fix, fill your bottle halfway and freeze it. When you're ready to go on a run or a bike ride, you can fill the rest with cold water. The ice will slowly melt and give you cool water as you go.


Each time tender seedlings shoot up in your garden, rabbits sneak in and nibble them to oblivion. How can you help the baby plants grow to maturity?

A simple solution for keeping rabbits from nibbling up your tender greens is to cage them with chicken wire. To protect seedlings from cutworms, place a tin can collar around each baby plant, embedded at least one inch deep.


You accidentally dropped a large pot on your kitchen tiles, and one broke. What can you do to fix it yourself?

When a tile is broken, you can replace it without having to replace the whole floor or call someone in. You’ll need to cut out the tile with an angle grinder, place a new tile in, and secure it with tile adhesive and grout.


If your copper pans are tarnished, what is an easy way to clean them?

Copper pans can be beautiful in the kitchen, but they tarnish, and this doesn’t come off with soap and water. A mixture of salt and vinegar, combined with a sponge and some elbow grease, will make your copper shine again.


If your door always swings open, how can you keep it from moving out of place?

Sometimes a door will not stay in place and swings open or closed. To remedy this, you can remove the middle hinge pin, bend it slightly, then tap it back into place with a hammer. This will give your hinge the needed extra friction to remain in place.


When the grout between kitchen tiles becomes filthy, what can you do to clean it?

Over time, grout between tiles will stain, due to spills, mildew and plain old dirt. Start cleaning with a mild scrub of water with vinegar and baking soda. For more stubborn stains, try grout cleaner or bleach.


If you notice a crack above your doorframe, what should be your first plan of action?

Cracks in walls can have a range of causes, from minor to severe. Minor cracks, such as those caused by repeated door slamming, may be addressed by filling the crack with a surface filler and then painting over it.


Whenever you make cookies, they seem to burn before the allotted baking time is up. What should you do?

While one solution could be to turn the oven down 10 degrees, a more permanent solution would be to get an oven thermometer and check to see if the oven needs to be recalibrated. This can be done at home and can save you the price of a new oven.


If your dining room chairs have filthy or worn upholstery, what do you need to do?

When the fabric of your dining chairs has become soiled or worn, you can recover them with new fabric. You’ll need to remove the seat, likely by unscrewing it, and then remove the staples securing the old fabric. Measure the chair and cut new fabric, allowing enough extra for the fabric to fold over onto the back. Then, pull it tight and staple it securely.


When you bake brownies, they consistently come out dry on the edges and underdone in the middle. How can you make them moist all the way through?

When brownies come out dry at the edges and mushy in the middle, it’s likely because you're baking them at too high a temperature. Turning down the oven and letting the brownies bake a bit longer can give you more evenly moist brownies. Be sure to check them often, so they don’t dry out!


You removed a phone jack, and now you have a hole in your drywall. How can you fix it?

The large holes left by removed outlets can be quite an eyesore. They can be fairly easily remedied by cutting out a piece of drywall the same size as the hole, fitting it in the hole and securing it with spackle. This method of repair is often called the “California patch.”


After doing some research, you determine that aphids are devouring your garden. How can you get rid of them naturally?

Aphids afflict gardens across all gardening zones in the United States. While an insecticide spray would eliminate aphids, it could also affect helpful insects. A natural alternative is to attract ladybugs to the garden to eat the aphids. Another option is to sprinkle the plants with flour.


When you have to cut an onion, it always burns your eyes and causes you to tear up. How can you best prevent this embarrassment?

While cutting onion doesn’t drive everyone to tears, for some it can cause aggravating pain. One way to prevent the chemical irritant from burning your eyes is to cut the onion beneath an active fan, so the fan can suck up the chemicals before they reach your eyes. Also try cutting the onion near an open flame or wearing glasses while chopping.


Your kitchen badly needs a new coat of paint. Where should you start?

While some walls may not need to be washed prior to painting, kitchen walls definitely need to have the grime scrubbed off. Wash them with a sponge and warm, soapy water. Be careful not to scrub too hard or to get the walls too wet, as this can damage the walls.


You’ve been trying to make bread, but the dough just won’t rise until doubled as the recipe suggests. What could be causing the problem?

For bread to rise effectively, it needs a warm environment. If your kitchen is cool, try warming the oven slightly, then letting the bread rise in the warmth. Also ensure that your yeast is not old and that you haven't added too much salt to the dough.


If a toddler wets the bed at night, what can you do to get rid of the odor and the stain?

A highly effective method for freshening a urine-stained mattress is to clean the affected area with a carpet cleaner designed for pet stains. The carpet cleaner will draw out both the stain and the odor.


If your meat doesn't brown when you cook it in a skillet, what is going wrong?

While meat and veggies may turn out soft and grey because the heat is too low, the more common issue is overcrowding the pan. Overcrowding prevents moisture from escaping while food cooks, and this moisture prevents the food from browning.


How can you remedy the funky stink coming from your garbage disposal in the long term?

While lemons and ice can help for a short-term fix, a garbage disposal needs to have the spray guard thoroughly cleaned from time to time, as food residue sticks to it and decays. Disconnect power to the disposal before scrubbing the rubber flaps with a toothbrush. Pouring straight bleach down a disposal is corrosive and not recommended.


You suspect that your toilet tank may be leaking. How can you find out?

If your toilet tank has a fast leak, you may be able to tell by any of the above methods, but with a slower leak, the best way to be sure is by putting a few drops of food coloring into the tank. If the tank is leaking, the color will appear in the toilet bowl.


If you burn the top of your forearm while removing a cake from the oven, how should you treat it?

While many people react to a burn by placing the wound under cold water or even applying an ice compress, cool water is actually better for soothing the burn without doing further damage. Afterward, apply aloe vera lotion and a sterile bandage. See a physician if the burn seems to become infected.


You noticed that your aloe vera plant has started turning a bit brown and looking rather shriveled up. What can you do to help it get better?

As a succulent, aloe vera does not need very much water. If you overwater it, the leaves can begin to turn brown. Only water an aloe plant about every three weeks, making sure that the soil dries one to two inches down between waterings.


You tried valiantly to make homemade yogurt, but the culture didn’t take. The yogurt was slushy, smelly milk in the morning. What went wrong?

Yogurt cultures need a warm environment, between 110 and 115 degrees Fahrenheit, in order to be active enough to make yogurt. If the temperature is not warm enough or gets too hot, the milk will remain milk and not become yogurt.


What is a long-term solution for condensation on the inside of a window?

Condensation can occur when warm and humid interior air hits a cold window, forming dew. Using a dehumidifier or placing a tray of rice and salt in the room can help control moisture in the short term, but for a long term solution, you’ll need to apply a breathable waterproof coating to the window.


You’re having friends over for dinner, and you realize your refrigerator smells bad. What can you do besides toss out the fridge?

A smelly fridge could simply be caused by spoiled food, in which case the problem can be remedied by removing the odor-causing item and cleaning the refrigerator interior. Verify that the refrigerator is operating at the proper temperature, between 35 and 38 degrees Fahrenheit, or you'll continue to find spoiled items and risk illness.


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